Stepping Stones to Unfamiliarity: A Handbook

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A summary of the contents of the book.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to the Didache or The Teaching of The Twelve Apostles, a first century document about the early church but only rediscovered in 1873. It deals with Baptism, Eucharist, the Ways of Life and Death and the appointment of church officials. Not least, it urges Christian communities to be very careful about the behaviour of visiting evangelists.(A version of the complete text is that by Milavec published by Liturgical Press in 2003.)

Chapter 2 is an individual approach to authorship of the Fourth Gospel. Rather than relying on the very tenuous historical claims about John the son of Zebedee, these are set aside in an interrogation of the text of the Gospel itself. What emerges is a quite different view as to the identity of the author.

Chapter 3 sets out a summary of the process by which what we have as the New Testament was assembled from a vast number of documents with varying claims to authenticity.

Chapter 4 examines the marginalisation of women in the early church. Among the factors considered important were the social norms of the Roman Empire where women were required to have a domestic role and to which the church deferred. It provides an opportunity to recognise some of the remarkable women exceptions and has a relevance to the church today.

Chapter 5 is concerned with the Gospel of Thomas rediscovered in the mid- 20th century. Rather than dismiss it as a ‘Gnostic’ document and therefore not of concern to orthodox Christians it is carefully examined to see what light it can shed on Jesus’ parables and like the Didache  as an example of what concerned the early  church.

Chapter 6 offers two views of modern hymn writing. One summarises how priorities of hymn writers have changed over time. The other considers the problem of hymn writing for upcoming generations for whom knowledge of the Bible and familiarity with a Christian-based culture are largely lacking.

Chapter 7 considers the contemporary lack of effectiveness of the sermon and offers reasons for its demise. Conversation rather than preaching is considered as a practical alternative. There is then a critical assessment of the current fashion for visual aids.

Chapter 8 offers a practical assessment of how congregations are accommodated in church and the obvious impracticalities thereof with consideration of rather more useful alternatives.

Chapter 9 is a science-based view of how to regard Nature. The theory of the big bang is briefly outlined together with astronomers’ forecasts of how eventually, as a dying star, the Sun will expand to engulf the earth. Before then it is assumed the Moon will depart from its orbit with catastrophic consequences for our planet. Mention is then made of the shorter timescale within which our species has evolved to the point of being able genetically to change the inheritance of future generations. The question is raised as to whether Christians are to be part of the debate or to opt out having preference for an ‘escapist spiritual time warp’.

Chapter 10 makes an assessment of whether or not the British State is now intrinsically secular. Given either possibility, the view taken here is that the State is now secular and that Christians need to recognise and develop their minority status. As part of this a view of Baptism is offered in such a context.

Chapter 11 Since an intrinsically sceptical society sees no reason to regard Jesus as other than a human being this chapter explores his humanity. The aim is to see how far Christians can understand and sympathise with the wider society’s view of Jesus rather than insist upon his divinity. A theme of the chapter is how far Jewish understanding of Jesus can inform our own in the interests of a wider rapprochement with Judaism.

Chapter 12 presents the idea that the Essene community by the Dead Sea at Qumran provided a model for the post-Pentecostal organisation of the church given the numerous similarities we find between the two. That it did not persist is explained by the conflict in Israel in AD 70 by which time Christianity was dispersed around the Roman empire and was developing other types of organisation. The implications for the seeming postponement of the eschaton or the End of The Age are considered briefly in relation to subsequent European history.

Stepping Stones to Unfamiliarity: A Handbook is available from G.P.Chapman